Shogun has been a fully distributed team since its inception in 2015. What started as a way to cut costs quickly turned into one of the best business decisions we could have made. This guide contains the lessons we've learned along the way to help you build an effective remote team.
We're often asked why we decided to go remote and initially the decision came down to cost. We were bootstrapped and wanted hire to contractors to help get Shogun off the ground. We soon discovered that you can get amazing talent in other parts of the world without dealing with Silicon Valley salaries if you're open to hiring remote.
At the same time, our cofounders, Nick and Finbarr, were also remote from one another — Nick was in Thailand and Finbarr was in San Mateo, CA — so it came naturally.
We continued hiring remotely for the first group of hires. Now we're deliberate about it. A lot of people have espoused the benefits of remote. Some that we particularly enjoy are:
We've put together this guide based on our first-hand experience and the many questions we've received about remote work and managing a remote company.
Whether you're transitioning to a fully remote team, have started dipping your toes in remote previously or have been fully remote for years we want this guide to help you improve your remote structure and process.
We will continue to update this guide as we grow, learn new things and make mistakes in order to empower others tagging along on this remote journey with us.
We have some of the best talent found anywhere in the world and that's because we decided to go remote from the beginning. Remote has allowed us to open our search to, almost, anywhere in the world with access to wifi.
Initially, we found people through Upwork. When you dial up all the filters on the site, you can find great professionals. After bringing some on board, they brought friends along.
Nowadays we find people through word of mouth and places such as:
Hiring remotely has been very easy for us so far. The talent pool is much larger.
The process varies per position. We screen fairly aggressively — after initial calls, there are usually one to three more rounds of interviews depending on the position.
We try to do trials when possible. Trials are a paid, temporary contract position that help both parties figure out if there's a mutual fit.
You really have no idea what it's going to be like to work somewhere until you actually do, and you really have no idea what it's going to be like to work with someone until you actually do. Hiring is always risky for both sides, and this significantly reduces that risk.
When trials are not possible, we typically do multiple reference checks.
Onboarding is very important to us as a company. We recognize that helping people get started on the right foot through comprehensive onboarding is the first step to retaining talented team members. We're constantly working to improve our onboarding process, but these are a few of the steps we've taken so far:
We use Donut to automate the onboarding workflow and make sure we're providing a consistent experience to team members. We've built a number of things into Donut including:
We also make sure to welcome each new hire with a Shogun swag box, which includes things like t-shirts, a hooded sweatshirt, a water bottle and a wireless charger.
In addition to these general onboarding tasks, each team has their own onboarding process to help new hires get acquainted with their day-to-day responsibilities, as well as any tools they'll need to use.
No. We have 60 people on the team in 21 countries across six continents.
To clarify, a lot of those countries only have one team member so far. Pockets are starting to emerge as team members refer their friends, but we still hire all over.
No. Everyone works from home or coworking spaces. Well, everyone apart from one person who built an office in his garden beside his swimming pool!
We don't plan to start any offices. Remote is a lot easier when everyone is on the same playing field.
When you mix and match remote and in-person, it's a lot easier for information loss to occur.
We have no set hours and we have very few meetings.
The meetings we do have are deliberate and focused. Everything else is asynchronous (mostly Slack and Clubhouse) and we write a lot of things down using Notion.
Good project management is essential. This is an area we're actively improving!
The first step to achieving this goal is to hire self-motivated people who don't need to be managed.
Working remotely involves a huge amount of trust. You have to assume the best but verify by measuring results.
We don't measure hours — it's all about productivity. Some of us measure productivity using Qbserve.
One of the questions we ask people in interview is, "How do you keep yourself organized?" This is a simple-sounding but very telling question. The most productive people tend to have systems that they evolve over time.
Fostering a culture people love is hard regardless of office structure and it becomes increasingly difficult to manage when your team is in over 21 countries around the world.
We've learned many lessons throughout the years and have found that the best way to build culture is to treat adults like adults and set and live by simple, but powerful values.
We highly value transparency, honesty, integrity, direct communication and respect.
We recently defined three company values by asking our team what was most important to them. There was a huge overlap in the suggested values from 39 different people.
The biggest difference we've found between working remotely and having a more traditional workplace is how we communicate. It's an adjustment, especially if you're new to remote completely.
The ability to walk over to a colleague's desk for quick clarification, or being able to invite your team members out to lunch isn't possible with a fully distributed team. However, we've come up with some ways to improve our communication to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction.
Slack is an instant messaging platform. It's our primary communication channel and we have some general rules around its usage.
We have specific naming and usage conventions around our slack channels. This makes it easier to find and search conversations, and join only those conversations relevant to you.
We use 60 different Slack integrations! Some of the top ones are described below:
- What went well?
- What didn't go well?
- What did you learn?
- What puzzles you?
It's way too easy to lose a conversation, especially when you are in a lot of channels. Here are two specific items I wish the company would implement:
Notion is a wiki tool that allows us to take meeting notes, create project outlines, set company guidelines and host information on our company and internal processes.
Notion is used as our source of truth for many aspects of our company including where we document our processes, the tools we use, team member and company information, team-specific documentation, meeting notes and much more.
It’s the permanent location for all of our important guides, policies and other information. Here are a few of the more major items we use Notion for:
- Communication Guide: We use this guide to explain how we document all of our tasks, meetings and updates to keep things asynchronous. It also highlights ways to improve communication between team members and how to track productivity (if you wish to do so).
- Remote Working Guide: We know transitioning to remote can be a large change for some people, that’s why we’ve put together a guide to help people remain productive and comfortable while they work from home, a remote workspace or a coffee shop.
Clubhouse is a project management tool. All of our engineering projects go in here, and other departments use this space, too.
Zoom is probably our secondary communication channel, behind Slack.
There are several big problems with zoom that come up frequently.
We mostly use Zoom for meetings. Here are some tricks we use to keep them running well:
Yes! We've held off site events and/or attended conferences with team members in Tbilisi, Las Vegas, Toronto, Sao Paulo, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Amsterdam, Melbourne, Bangalore and more!
Additionally, a number of team members have visited our "HQ" in San Mateo, CA. We always take them to Sushi Sam's!
No. We write a lot of things down. We take meeting notes for most meetings. We write weekly updates to the company about what's happening and there's a lot of transparency about how the company is doing.
At times, yes! You have to be comfortable being alone a lot! Remote work is not a great fit for everyone for that reason.
It's super important to have a schedule and stick to it. For example Finbarr, our CEO, has scheduled lunch breaks every day from 12-1.
Setting the right goals and KPIs are important aspects of growing a company whether your team is remote or centralized. For us, setting goals is an ongoing process and something that we continue to improve upon.
At Shogun we practice agile development while empowering engineers to manage tasks independently.
- What went well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What should we change?
- What should we continue to do?
We function similarly to other modern design teams: We embed designers inside cross-functional teams and task them with solving user-centric problems.
We have designers in four different countries right now, from LA to Europe. We've decided to keep hiring between those timezones so we can all meet together at least once a day. We also try to pair a designer with an engineering squad that is the closest to their timezone.
We communicate a-sync as much as possible, but run three meetings a week where every designer is in attendance.
We do a "Design Sync" at 12 p.m. EST where every designer (product and marketing) give an update on their past week and what they're focusing on this week, with an emphasis on anything blocking them. We do quick updates (usually on items the leadership team passed through me) and then we do a Question of the Week to get to know each other better.
We do "Weekly Showoff" at 1 p.m. EST where every designer has the opportunity to show any WIP work and get collaborative feedback on it. The designer then posts the work into Slack for deeper feedback.
We do an optional "Designer Hangout" at 12 p.m. EST where anyone can add agenda points and we talk casually about design. We've talked about processes, looked at inspiring work other companies are doing and shared our backstories about how we got into design.
We do kickoff meetings over Zoom whenever a project is starting. And when a designer wants feedback from stakeholders, they can book the Design Director's time through a Calendly link for 45-minute sessions.
Outside of those interactions, we keep a lot of communication on Slack and — probably the most important piece — write everything in Notion. Our designers need to keep the current state of the project they're designing incredibly well-documented and accessible to anyone.
We also have a running list of software and how to use it, as well as our overall design process on Notion. We use Sketch, InVision, Zoom, Slack and Notion, and have also started using Figma for recent design sprints.
Although working remotely has helped us solve or avoid many of the problems associated with having a company office, it's not perfect. We've come across a few challenges at Shogun, but with proper research and the right talent you can alleviate a lot of the pain.
One of the biggest factors in being comfortable and staying productive while working remotely is your home office setup.
We recommend having dedicated space you can come to and focus on your work for the day. Creating a dedicated space also helps you get away from work when you need even though your office and household are under the same roof.
When asked what we recommend when it comes to a desk set up we always emphasize ergonomics and a good internet connection of at least 25 mbps; we like to test our connection speeds using Fast.com. When working from home it's important to create a comfortable environment to work in so you can stay focused while working around all of the additional distractions of home life.
Finbarr's setup includes a Herman Miller Aeron chair, a motorized standing desk, an ErgoDox keyboard, and a 34-inch curved Dell monitor. For audio/video he uses a Blue Snowball microphone and a Logitech HD camera.
Greg's work set up includes a Macbook Pro 13", LG 38UC99 Monitor, Logitech Craft Wireless Keyboard, Logitech MX Master 2S Wireless Mouse, Logitech c920 Webcam and Master & Dynamic MW60 Headphones.
His gaming set up includes a PS4, Samsung 55" NU8000 TV, Durgod Hades 68 Keyboard, Logitech G900, Wireless Mouse, NXZT h510i PC Case, CPU: Intel - Core i5-6600K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor, Asus -, Z170-A ATX LGA1151 Motherboard, HyperX Fury Black 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory, GeForce GTX 1070 8GB Card, Steelseries Siberia 800 Wireless Headphones and LG 29WK600-W 29" UltraWide Monitor.
Tiffany's home office features a salt lamp, plants and air purifier for healthy air quality, a Buddha statue, gems and other zen decor for calm, an essential oil diffuser to help with energy and moods, a light therapy lamp for health in the winter that doubles as great lighting sourcing during video calls, metal boards and cactus sticky note holder for organization of inspiration and reminders, 2 mac laptops, wireless keyboard and mouse, printer and shredder, a computer stand to lift her laptop to eye level, a cushion for elbow comfort and a Hermen Miller office chair.
Kalen uses a Vertagear S-Line SL4000 Racing Series Gaming Chair and a PC built with a MSI Z370 ATX Motherboard, EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 XC Ultra Gaming 8GB GDDR6 GPU, EVGA CLC 280 Liquid/Water CPU Cooler, RGB LED Cooling, Corsair Vengeance 16GB DDR4 3600MHz Memory, EVGA SuperNOVA 850 P2 850W Fully Modular PSU, NZXT H700i Mid-Tower Computer Case, and an Intel Core i7-8700K CPU.
His A/V set up includes a, Logitech C922x Pro Stream 1080P Webcam 1080P and Blue Yeti USB Microphone.